My 12 year old son Rishi and I spent a morning at Kaula Bandar, a Mumbai slum earlier this week that, by some measures, appears less-liveable than the more ‘well known’ Dharavi. A few pictures (see slideshow below) here are worth many more words, though I’ll have to briefly explain the pictures too.
The first shows Rishi with Bali. Bali is one of the barefoot researchers who work with the non-profit Pukar. They are community based researchers working on defined research projects, e.g. taking a census of housing which you can imagine is useful for any number of purposes. When we visited, a small army, Bali and his friends, were engaged in a project designed to spread awareness about tuberculosis (the TB incidence is higher in this slum than in others perhaps because of the close proximity in which individuals are forced to live; in some places, there is not even room for the inhabitants to sleep lying down).
The second shows Rishi with me and with Anita (Dr Anita Patil-Deshmukh, the founder of Pukar). Anita kindly arranged our visit. I loved the way she systematically took us through the slums, following Bali who has ‘street cred’ as it were and displaying incredible compassion and good cheer. Even when inhabitants asked tough questions to which there were no immediate answers (‘do something about the water please!’ or ‘I’m a painter and can’t find work’), she responded with empathy and kindness.
The third photograph shows a telltale sign, water cisterns outside one of the slum dwellings, with locks on them, even though each small living quarter might not have locks. Water=Life, nowhere more apparent than here. Water is sucked up from underground pipes, one presumes illegally. Walking through the slum involved navigating snaking pipes traversing the ground, moving water into the vicinity of different subgroups of dwellings, from which it presumably finds its way into the storage cisterns. We witnessed a brewing argument about water, of the sort that I’m sure is inevitably commonplace. I’m told though that there are relatively few ‘fights’ here, given the ambient water-related tensions, a credit to whatever form of self-governance has emerged.